(Some months later)

On this particular day, I found myself sitting in a bridal shop trying on a violet dress with tiny straps and a pair of dark purple pumps. I cringed at the foul shade and the lack of good it did to my natural color. With a tiny spin and curtsey just to see how it felt, I shrugged. I stopped my parading around when I heard an excited gasp from behind me. In the reflection of the mirror stood Rose with her hand held over her mouth and a fresh set of tears glazing her eyes. I smiled and turned toward her. "Like it?"

"Oh you look just perfect. You're daddy is going to love that dress."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"All the bridesmaids will be wearing it in different patterns of course but you look particularly gorgeous." She cocked her head to the side.

"He'll be too focused on you to notice my dress, Rose." I laughed giving myself one more glance. Hopeless.

"Mr. Murray will notice." She smirked at the automatic blush my cheeks experienced. How he still managed to affect me after months of being so close never ceased to amaze me.

"He rented his tux yesterday."

"You didn't tell him to take out his piercing's for the occasion did you?"

"No, why?"

"I just want him to feel as comfortable as possible. He wouldn't be himself without the holes." She laughed.

I ran my hands through my hair so it was off my shoulders and did a glamour pose in the glassy surface. There was absolutely no looking beautiful in that dress.

"Grace is on her way." I stepped off the platform and kicked the hideous shoes across the room.

"I do hope they got her measurements right..speaking of which... Antonia!" Rose called toward the back of the building for her

"You look like a glass of grape juice." I laughed as my best friend entered the room with that blunt statement.

"Yes but a very tasty one I'm sure." I rolled my eyes.

"Sorry I'm late." She dropped her purse to the floor and let her body fall into the nearest chair. "Hanz."

"Do I even want to know?" I began searching for my regular clothes through a mess of badly made fabrics and shoe boxes.

"He's just stressed out about meeting my mom." She laughed. "It's really kinda funny."

"It always is when boys like him are nervous."

"He can't come to the wedding." She sighed heavily. "Their last show is that night."

"How are they all taking the band breaking up?"

Grace made a face as if she was trying really hard to explain each and every one of them. "Yong is okay with it mainly because he's got another one lined up. Joe and Byron aren't happy but aren't throwing fits. Ray, well he's better than he used to be but there's a lot of pouting."

"And Hanz?" I started changing.

"He's excited about starting school." She grinned. "I am too."

"Yeah me too." I smirked at the thought of our little group attempting higher education together. Only time would tell.

After I was more comfortable in a pair of shorts and t-shirt I sat down on the floor near Grace's feet. We sat in silence for a moment, listening to the other sounds around us. Rose was busy talking to Antonia about whatever came next in the saga that was her wedding. Antonia talked back in a fierce Italian accent with small ruffles of laughter at the ends of certain words. Other customers walked around the front of the store, browsing, shopping, scoffing at ridiculous prices. A speaker overhead called for someone named Joy to report to the front office. I sighed. Grace closed her eyes and leant back against the chair. Peace.

"What do you girls think?" We both jumped awake at the nearness of a foreign voice. Rose stood in front of us in a sparkling creme dress that fit her just perfectly, gathering at the waist and erupting into a fit of gorgeous silk at the bottom. She looked ten years younger with the huge smile on her face and her hair swept back in an elegant bun.

"You look beautiful." Grace smiled full fledged.

"The perfect dress." I nodded in agreement.

"Not too much then?" She asked turning toward the mirror and eyeing it suspiciously.

"No!" We both yelled at the same time soon followed by a ridiculous set of giggles.

"It's really the best." I smiled. "Daddy will faint when he see's you."

"He'd be crazy not to." Grace added.

"Only if you two are sure." Rose gave a dreamy sigh. She saw it too.

The perfect dress.

I hadn't really talked to my daddy about anything lately. We weren't mad or sad or anything negative really, just there. I loved him and he loved me, there was no guessing when it came to that. He stopped me one evening, the days before the wedding to remind me that I was his daughter. He urged me to sit down on the couch so we could talk. I obliged. The room was still and the television cut off.

"Hey baby doll, we haven't chatted in quite some time." He smiled that same old daddy smile. I returned it.

"I know. We've both been busy." I explained.

"How are you feeling about all of this?"

I paused. "Honestly at first I was freaked out but it just seems to be so good. I like it." I laughed. "I feel absolutely calm about it all. It's a nice feeling."

"Good, good." He nodded.

"How are you feeling about all of this?" I mocked with a silly grin. He looked pale, scratching the back of his head.

"I'm nervous. Very nervous." He gave an awkward laugh. "I haven't been married in quite some time."

"Since mom." I grinned. "She'd approve of Rose."

"I think so too." He nodded, eyes wondering off to stare at space. "Being a husband is a big deal."

"Yeah and you're gonna do pretty great." I nudged him with my shoulder. "Stop worrying."

"It's what I'm good at." He cleared his throat in that father-ish way of his. "Been worrying about you for about..oh, 18 years now." He smiled at me genuinely, nervousness still evident in his eyes.

"Well stop it." I shrugged to show how easy it was to be calm. "Let it happen."

"I'm just worried about all this, baby girl." He paused. "I'm too old to be making any big mistakes."

"You're not making a mistake, daddy. You love Rose, correct?"

"Of course."

"And Rose loves you...and I love you and Rose. And the world is round and life is short so it's all okay."

"Good way of thinking." He chuckled.

"Now let's get ready for dinner." I stood up and began walking toward the stairs. Before I could take the first step up toward my bedroom I turned around and wrapped my arms around my fathers shoulders from behind. He hugged me back, patting my hands with his calloused fingers.

"You're a good girl, Ella." I started walking again.

"And you're a good man, daddy." I replied. "Everything's going to be good."

"I know." He nodded, turning his chair around to face me on the stairs. "Now go get ready. We meet at the restaurant

in.." glance at the watch on his right wrist. "Thirty minutes."

"I'll be ready."

The rehearsal dinner was an extreme affair. Both sides of our family met at Guido's Italian restaurant at exactly seven pm. Young and old, laughing, talking, eating. Grove sat beside me the most comfortable I had ever seen him with my family. He was finally getting used to us. Grace sat on the other side of me with her blonde boyfriend leaning in and talking close to her mouth. My daddy and Ms. Rose told humorous stories about how they met and my fathers constant flirtatious attempts toward her from the very beginning.

Ms. Rose's sister Georgia, also maid of honor, stood up in the middle of dinner and grabbed everyone's attention with raising her glass of wine high in the air. The entire party stopped and watched her expectantly.

"I just want to make a toast to the happy couple." When she smiled she looked so much like Ms. Rose. "I have never seen my sister as happy as when she's talking about you. She has a thousand good things to tell us all about the both of you. Ella and Richard I just want to say, you two are her family which means your our family now too." A tear slid down her face. "We love you both and are so very excited about tomorrow." She reached down and touched her sisters shoulder. "This is all very good." With that everyone raised their glasses and agreed to the toast.

She was right it really was very good.

The next morning I was woken up at the crack of dawn. The morning was perfect with insanely green grass, singing birds and not a dark cloud in the sky. Ms. Rose had asked me to be at her home in the early hours of the morning and I had managed to wake up the first time my alarm sounded through the air. I lay in my bed for a moment staring at the bumpy surface of my ceiling. Downstairs I heard the sounds of life. All the males on my dad's side of the family had spent the night so as to help daddy on the big day. I heard the alarm go off and the sound of a dozen or so sleepy yet energetic voices mumbling to each other. I heard doors opening and shutting, appliances starting, showers running. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my things, and rushed toward Ms. Rose's house across town.

"I'm so nervous." Rose said to me through her reflection in the mirror. I stood behind her attempting at curling a few strands of hair that had fallen from her loose bun. "My stomach is in knots." She smiled, touching her face with a shaky hand. "Do you think my makeup is too much?"

"Your makeup is perfect." I shushed her. "You look amazing. As soon as you get your dress on you'll be ready."

"Did your daddy remember to take his blood pressure medicine?"

"Yep. Handed it to him myself this morning." I smiled and walked over toward the beautiful cream gown draped over a chair. "He was very excited and you should be too. Just relax."

"I love you, Ella dear." She followed me and wrapped her arms around my neck, squeezing tight. I didn't think twice before returning the embrace.

"Yeah I love you too. . .mommy Rose." I nearly laughed and so did she.

She held the dress in her hands and again that whimsical look took over her face.

"Can you ask Georgia to help me with my dress that way you can go get ready yourself."

"Yes mam." I nodded while walking toward the adjoining room. "You're gonna do great."

"So are you." She turned away.

We all arrived at the church around noon. I found Grace and stood by her with our tiny bouquets of tulips in hand and nervous smiles on our faces. Hanz, who had decided to push the show off yet another weekend, and Grove took our arms and walked us down the lilac colored carpet, over crushed flower petals and sweet smelling perfumes. The congregation all smiled and nodded at us. I looked at Grove who seemed to be very happy. He gave me a little nudge in the ribs that only I noticed. I smiled at him as we separated at the front of the church. After the entirety of the bridesmaids and groomsmen were settled the Wedding march started playing. Daddy sat in his chair with a beautiful smile resting on his thin lips. A tear slipped down his face at the sight of a dress clad Rose began her lengthy walk down the aisle. The people stood, leaning over to catch a good look at the blushing bride. She didn't taker her eyes off of daddy. Not once.

After the ceremony was over and the Gardeners were pronounced as such we all walked toward the reception hall. Daddy and Rose disappeared in front of the crowd and I was left with Grove. He hugged me tight against him while I surrendered to the pure bliss of the moment. Inside the reception area was a vision of purple and white. The tables covered in ivory tablecloths with tiny purple floral centerpieces and minute bags of lace filled with birdseed. A band dressed in purple blazers and white pants sang jovial tunes full of love from the stage in the front. Waiters bustled around the tables with shiny silver platters and happy smiles. Rose and my dad sat at the large table in the front with big goofy grins and private conversations. Hanz and Grace danced in the middle of the floor, surrounded by similar couples, but none quite as happy. Grove automatically pulled me toward the dance floor. Despite my very adamant protests I found myself wrapped around my boyfriend swaying to a slow song.

"You look so good." Grove whispered. I rolled my eyes but gave him the smile he asked for.

"You too, Romeo." I pecked him on the lips.

"You'd look even better in a white dress." He stated the smile gone from his face.

"You just want to be able to see through said dress. Don't think I don't know what your up to." I laughed.

"Yeah. You're just too smart for me." He grinned in response.

"Just figuring that out?"

"We're good together." He changed the subject. I completely agreed. "Like really good."

"I know." I pressed my forehead against his.

"I'm going to school." That came out of nowhere. I was happy for him. I had spent the remainder of our senior year begging him to think about higher education. He had assured me he only wanted his highschool diploma and then to never take another test ever again.

"That's awesome." I laughed. "Where?"

"Wherever you go I'll go." He pulled me closer.

"You love me." I reached up and cupped his jaw in my hands. He leant in and kissed me.

"Only forever... not a day over." He stuck his tongue out at me.

"Ditto baby." I mocked his actions.

An hour later everyone sat down to hear the traditional toast from the best man. My daddies best friend and old boxing buddy, Heath Martial. The middle-aged man who was unnaturally gorgeous grinned at the audience and straightened his hopelessly crooked tie toward the center of his shirt. He leant back casually on the heels of his feet, throwing a charming look toward the newly married couple before raising his glass of murky colored liquid.

"You see this man here?" Heath asked pointing toward my father. "He is the best friend a guy can have. He was there for me no matter what." He added on with a softer smile. "And now that he is embarking on this new and exciting journey called marriage, I hope I can be there for him. Rose, you are a lovely woman. Especially since you are the only one that can put up with the old man." Everyone laughed at this tiny joke, including my daddy. "So with that said and all the compliments pushed at the two of you. I wish you all the happiness in world, both of you. I think I speak for everyone in this room when I say love is all you need. And you have plenty of that."

My dad looked pleasantly surprised with the speech given by his oldest and dearest friend as did Rose. Everyone clapped and the music took up again. Twelve or so couples decided to go back and once again inhabit the dance floor and I ran over toward my daddy. It was almost time for us to send them off on their honeymoon. I needed to work in a goodbye.

"Congratulations you two." I smiled, hugging Rose and Daddy at the same time.

"Congrats Mr and Mrs. Gardener." Grove grinned from behind me, shaking my dads hand and leaning in the give Rose a quick embrace. "You make a great couple."

"Why thank you Grove." Rose blushed.

"Where are you two off to?" Daddy asked my boyfriend.

"We're sticking around here until you two leave." I interrupted, holding Grove's arm in a tight hug. "wouldn't miss out on a second away from yall."

"Goodness what a liar." My daddy laughed.

"No sir. I know for a fact Ella never lies." Grove smirked at the obvious falsehood.

"If we're done making fun of me..." I nudged Grove hard.

"Well we're about to head out. Our flight leaves soon." Rose took hold of her husbands wrist and read his watch.

"Very soon." She nodded impatiently. "I'm going to tell Georgia goodbye. I'll let you two talk." She kissed his cheek.

I waited while Grove kissed my cheek in the same way Rose had pecked daddy. They both walked away in opposite directions and I sat down on a chair opposite my father. He automatically took my hands gave a gentle squeeze.

"You're growing up, baby girl." He smiled. "Growing up and not needing me so much."

"That's not true." "I shrugged. "I'll always need you."

"No, not in the way you have before. Grove is starting to take on that roll."


"No let me finish." He warned. "I like that you've found such a good boy to take care of you. It makes me feel less worried when you go out and stay out till all hours of the night. It makes me feel better to know that he's the one protecting you instead of the one you need to be protected from." He coughed as if holding back tears. He never did cry.

"What brought all this up?" I asked quietly. People were still dancing, laughing, singing. The band was going strong and the plates of dessert set out on the tables surface.

"When you were walking up that aisle with that boy holding your arm." He sighed. "I just knew."

"Knew what?" I laughed a little, urging him to go on.

"I knew things were changing...for the better."

I arched my eyebrows. Were things actually changing? I knew the smaller less significant things were altering; seasons, clothes, hair color. But as for the things that actually mattered...were they any different? The beginning of that year had been somewhat new. I had been myself, walking around the hallways trying desperately to make it through my senior year. I had ran smack dab into a beautiful boy and fell in love. I no longer wondered about wether or not I would be alone because I just knew I wouldn't. Grove was there and he would be there for a long time. We had made promises to each other and in spite of the fact that people aren't always honest I believed every word he said. Adam was gone. Grace was leaving. Daddy was married. I was still alive. It wasn't the end of the world.

"I'll pick you up from the airport in two weeks." I nodded. The tears I was trying desperately hard to keep back were now falling down my cheeks. They were the happy sort of tears though.

"I love you, baby girl." He whispered bringing me in for a tight hug.

"I love you too, daddy."

"I'll see you soon." He nodded as if convincing me. "I'll want to hear all about your small bout of freedom."

"Yeah well. I'll miss you."

"Same here, baby doll."

I hugged him once more before he left. I hugged Rose too as tight as my father. They were waved off. Their limo shining in the dull evening light. The party cleared and Grove drove me home where he stayed the night. No. Still no sex but a lot of falling asleep.

"You do realize I hate you." I told Grace three days later. We stood in front of Yong's home with the entire band

talking a good four feet away. My best friend was invited to go on tour with the small band and witness their struggles first hand. She dropped her duffel irritated to the ground.

"I love you." She shrugged. "I don't care how you feel about me." She kicked the dark blue duffel hard. It didn't budge.

"You are going to have so much fun." I groaned. "Where are you going first?"

"Arkansas." She grinned. "Then somewhere else.." She wrinkled her brow in thought. "Utah maybe?"

"And are you going to sleep with Hanz?" I asked her plainly. She laughed.

"In a room surrounded by half a dozen horny males...don't think so." She grinned all knowingly. "Are you gonna sleep with Grove?"

I sighed deeply and glanced at my beautiful boyfriend. He was talking with a group of guys that I had come to love of the last few months. "Don't know yet."

"Hanz and I already have." She admitted with a guilty look about her face. Her voice so low I could barely hear it.

"What?! And you didn't tell me."

"I'm sorry. I was a little nervous about how you'd react." She pointed out my extreme volume. "I didn't want you thinking I was going too fast."

"How was it?"

"Awesome." She giggled like a small child. "Yep so awesome."

"Be safe please." I hugged her tight. "Just be safe and don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Deal." She hugged me back.

"Call me at least once a week." I sighed heavily. "More if possible."

"I will. Don't worry."

"I'll see you in two months?"

"Yes mam." She laughed hard. Hanz waved at her from across the yard. A goofy grin spread over her face.

"And then you'll come back for a week before leaving me again."

"Things have to change, El." She embraced me yet again. "We will stay best friends. I promise."

"Yeah well...we better."

We stared at each other silently. I had known Grace since kindergarten and all of a sudden we were so very grown up. We had graduated. We had been in wedding. We had both fell in love and found out that things weren't always the way you wanted them to be but sometimes were absolutely perfect the way they are. She was spending the summer on the road.

"Bye Gracie." I whispered.

"Bye Ellie." She waved.

I watched them leave and for a moment I was scared. Grove hugged me from behind, resting his chin on the top of my head. I held onto his arms and took a deep breath.

"You look like you're about to cry." He stated as we drove back toward my home. I shook it off and stared out the window. "...babe. What's up?" He let his hand rest on my knee, a comforting gesture in itself. I sniffled and soon rivers were streaming down my face and my boyfriend pulled over on the side of the road to comfort me. "What's the matter?" He whispered pulling me close to his side.

"I'm just being a girl." I choked on my choppy sentence. "I'm okay."

"This doesn't look like okay." He grinned.

"I'm just getting used to everything." I took in a shaky breath. "I'm okay." I repeated.

"You want to go home?"

"No I want to go out." I looked up into his eyes.

"Ideas of where?"

"Lake Minoa."

So three hours later we arrived at the deserted lake. The sun was setting and turned the entirety of the water a warm orange-pink. I crossed my arms over my chest and took in everything around me. There were trees everywhere, dark, green and lush. A cabin toward the back of the clearing, a huge lake with a dock running out toward the center. Grove and I walked along the wooden planks, sitting at the end with a comfortable silence between us.

"This is the dreaded Lake Minoa huh?" I laughed. "Looks harmless enough."

Grove grinned. "That's because there isn't naked people running around."

"True." I agreed.

Another lengthy silence.

"Why were you crying before?"

I froze. "I was just being stupid, Grove. Let it lie." I went to move away. He stopped me.

"No, no, no." A sexy smirk. "You're gonna tell me and I'm going to make it better."

"You can't make everything better just like that, Grove." I looked down at my lap. "It doesn't work that way."

"Yes I can and it does." That cocky tone was enough to make me giggle.

I threw a heavy sigh in his direction. He looked so observant, so sure of himself. I shook my head.

"No." I stated plainly. "Its something that I've got to do by myself."

"You don't have to handle things by yourself anymore, El." He grabbed my hand and showed me our joined limbs.

"You see this?" He asked shaking the tangled mass of fingers. "This means we help each other. I want to help you and

I'd like to think if I was having the same emotional breakdown you would help me too."

"I'm not having an emotional breakdown." I said laughing.

"Whatever this is..whatever it is." He took his other hand and held my chin up to face him. "We get to figure it out together. Got it?" I nodded ruefully. I knew he was right.

"So...what's up?" He pulled me until I was sitting on his lap. This position had gotten so routine it was barely noticeable anymore. I leant sideways against his chest with my head tucked comfortably under his chin. I took note of how he rubbed small circles on my upper arm. It was a completely innocent, comforting gesture. I was falling so fast, more every day. The fact that he even cared made the love meter shoot up a few more notches.

"Tell me." He feigned a whiney voice. I laughed and playfully punched him in the stomach. He hugged me closer.

"It's just...everything is changing, Grove." I talked quietly so as not to break the mood. "Everything is going all crazy so fast. I just...it just."

"Overloaded?" He asked. I nodded.

"Yeah. That's exactly what I would call it. Overloaded, freaked out, freakin crazy." I played with a loose thread on his shirt. "I'm just scared that it's never gonna feel normal again. My dad's married so it's not just me and him anymore. I have to worry about a whole other person's feelings and rules. Grace is moving, she's gone for the summer, she's gonna be gone all the time. The person I used to talk with every day is leaving and practically obsessed with her boyfriend. School's starting and I have no clue what I'm going to do." I inhaled. "Fix it please."

"Your dad and Rose may have just got married but they have been acting like they were married for how many months now?" I looked up at my boyfriend.

"A long time."

"See. So nothing's really changed their but a last name." I smiled at his reasoning. "That good?"

"Yep. Now what about Grace?"

"Well Grace may be leaving but you two will have phone calls and email and all that other stuff girls do to keep in touch. She'll be home on holiday's and summer and all that shit... plus you'll have me. You can talk to me everyday and I'm a much better friend...on those cold lonely nights." I laughed out loud at that and leant up to kiss him square on the lips. He smiled into our kiss and for a moment that sorrowful feeling was fleeting. It was nice.

"Things will feel normal again. Don't worry, baby."

"I believe you." I hugged him tighter than ever before. "Now do me a favor."

"What now?" He joked.


Grove was speechless for the second time I had met him. The first time being when Hanz confronted him about our relationship, or lack thereof. This time he gave me the typical baffled stare with a grunt of a 'huh' soon after. I stood up and tugged off my shirt while my boyfriend continued to stare, his eyes naturally drifting south of my neck. I snapped over the button of my jean shorts and pushed them down my thighs. I never would've thought I would be so comfortable standing in nothing but a funny yellow bra and green polka dotted undies but I was. Grove cocked his head to the side before pulling me back down on top of him and covering my mouth with his.

"Grove no!" I laughed, doing my best to pull away.

"Please." Grove smiled while pressing ruttish kisses along my throat. "Please El, I'm begging you just make out with me. I need this." He ran his hands up my back and for a split second I forgot what my plan was in the first place. I nodded in reply, allowing him to slide my bra straps down my shoulders and replace the empty spaces with his sweet mouth. He was working his way downward, latching onto every piece of usually covered skin with skilled tongue and the occasional grazing of teeth.

"Wait." I pushed him away, my breath ragged. "Take off your clothes."

"Why?" He asked making another attempt at tasting me again. I moved back.

"Because I want to go skinny dipping." This earned a true smile from my blushing boyfriend.

"Just months ago you woulda kicked me for suggesting it."

"Things have changed, Mr. Murray." I said in my sexiest voice. I pulled his shirt off for him, marveling at his perfect body.

"Thank god for that." He breathed.

"Hurry up and get undressed. I'll meet you in the water."

So I stripped completely behind and tree and swam out the middle of the lake. The water skimmed along my body and my heart pounded in waiting. Grove soon joined me, scaring me slightly by approaching me from behind. He splashed my face with water and I retaliated the same way. We were so rapt up in our battle of splashes I almost forgot the lack of clothing separating our bodies. That promptly came back to me as I tackled him into the murky deep and felt every ridge and hardened muscle of his body. We both stopped moving and stared. How had it gotten so uncomfortable so quickly?

I moved first, which startled us both. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed a small yet very intense kiss to his lips. He responded right away. A sheen of liquid slid between our bodies and did little to stop anything we were doing. Grove's hands were smoother under water, slipping from the small of my back to my sides back to the small of my back again. I shivered unintentionally as we moved closer than we ever had before. It was silly to think that those few inches of material stopped everything from happening just hours before. It was funny to think about anything at all at that moment. I was making so many obstructing noises that it was distracting for me but I quickly regained interest as Grove started the sucking, nibbling, biting thing again. I bit down hard on my own lip as to stop any unnecessary embarrassment. His hands began a path lower than they ever have before which earned a gasp from my mouth. I wrapped both legs around his narrow waist and kissed him hard on the mouth, things were moving so fast. Surprisingly I wasn't the one to pull away.

"We don't need to do this here, El." He panted, running a shaky hand through his hair.

"Why not?" I found myself whining and reaching for him to come back again.

"Because . . ."

"You can't touch me..like and then just run off..."

"I don't mean .. I mean.. Let's go inside." He pulled me toward the bank of the lake. I followed without a word edgewise. He let me get back up on shore behind the same tree from before. I pulled my clothes on, they stuck to my body making it nearly impossible to get them on. I settled with my bra and jean shorts before joining my newly clad boyfriend in his voyage toward the cabin.

Inside the cabin it was dark and dusty. Grove and I were still very nearly naked and the dim light filtering in from the setting sun was just enough to make out dull shapes of timid bodies. I crossed my arms over my chest and waited while Grove shook off the bed. He pulled back the quilted comforter and fluffed the already worn in pillows as if it would matter two seconds from now. I shifted from foot to foot, a nervous habit I had picked up over the year. Grove pulled open a few drawers before finding a pack of condoms and unwrapping one.

"Your friends own this place?" I asked curious as to know how he knew exactly where the protection was.


"You know your way around, huh." I grabbed a nearby duvet and wrapped it around my body. The air was suddenly cold and the lake water on my skin making it that much cooler. Grove seemed to notice my sudden shift in attitude and looked up at me with a curious gaze.

"El. Come here." He patted the spot beside him. I paused before plopping down. "I love you and only you." He ran a calm hand through my hair, pushing a damp strand behind my ear. "I have been friends with Mike...the guy who owns this place.. since seventh grace. He's kept the condoms in the same spot since tenth grade." He pressed his forehead against my own. "So don't think for a second I've screwed around on you because I would never do that. Note the dust." He held out the obviously dusty box. I shrugged.

"This is a big deal, Grove." I looked around the dimly lit room. "I'm...new to all of this."

"I know." He nodded. "I knew from the moment I met you." He grinned. I grinned back.

"This is serious." But I couldn't help the laughter behind my words. "It's a very big decision."

"True." He took my hand in his own. "So if you have any doubts we don't have to do it. I'm not gonna get mad or yell. If you don't want to do this we can go swimming or see a movie or eat or even watch tv back at your house. Up to you."

"Okay." I stood up and started walking toward the door. He followed me and just before I reached the door he whipped me around and placed a small kiss to my forehead. "Now what are we going to do?"

"I was just coming over here to make sure the door was closed. . . just in case." I shrugged. "Unless you want to do something else..."

Grove laughed and pressed me snug against the door. Again I marveled at the feel of his skin against mine. The duvet I had used to cover up slowly fell to the floor. Soon all the light was gone from the room and Grove led me toward the bed. The time before hand passed exceedingly slow as it progressed. I had never felt so wound up in my life and the fact that Grove realized this drove me crazy. He kept whispering how much he loved me as if to assure me. There was a small moment of panic before he kissed me and it all melted away.

In the early morning light I turned over to see Grove staring at me.

"I'm not going anywhere, El." He whispered while pulling me closer to his body. I was so sore.

"Well neither am I." I stuck out my tongue and his smile broadened.

"You're pretty amazing you know that?" He asked, his trained to mine.

"Well duh." I laughed, snuggling into his warm side. "You too." I added in a whisper. He heard me. I could tell by the way he traced a heard on my bare back with his pointer finger.

It was just like that.

Grove was my forever sort of someone.

Later that summer Grace returned for a week and spent the entirety of it with me. One day, as we all lounged around Yong's front yard she stopped talking about the months spent on the road and asked me how I spent my summer. I grinned like an half-wit and stared at my boyfriend who laughed with Hanz across the yard. He must've felt my stare because he returned the idiotic smile I had given him.

"Come on El, spill." She nudged me with her arm.

I replied with a shrug and a glance downward. "Nothing much." But that really wasn't the case now was it?

I knew what I had done and one day I would tell Gracie all about the time I went Skinny Dipping with Grove Murray.

EPILOGUE (if you want it)

The Following Christmas:

"Oh my god your hair!" Grace screamed as she stepped of the plane and ran straight into my tight embrace. I had cut my hair into choppy neck length just days before. Grove had assured me I looked like a rock star and proceeded to kiss behind my ear in approval.

"Yeah I know.. I'm still not sure if I like it." I touched the back of my ragged locks.

"I love it!" She screamed, receiving at least a dozen odd looks along the way. "It's so freakin rock star." I threw Grove a look that read conspiracy.

"Told you." He shrugged, walking over and shaking hands with a newly approaching Hanz.

"Good to see you man." He said to his old friend.

"You too." Hanz handed off a few bags to each of us. "I'm tired as hell though."

"I told you to get some sleep last night." Grace sighed.

"I tried, babe." He shrugged. "The thought of your beauty kept me up." They exchanged grins.

"Glad to see you two are still hot and heavy." Grove rolled his eyes in good humor. I laughed.

"I'm so glad you're back." I squealed excitedly. "I've missed you like crazy."

"yeah she's missed you too, didn't stop saying she missed you until about two minutes ago."

"Good." I laughed while linking my arms with hers.

"We've got a lot of shopping trips to finish in three weeks." She joined in on my enthusiasm.

"And a lot of movie nights."

"Yong is back too. We should stop by." Grove told Hanz.

"Yeah dude, sounds good." The blonde agreed.

I told Grove goodbye with an elongated kiss while Grace hugged Hanz tight. We left in separate vehicles in order to catch up like old friends do.

"So. . . how's life away from me?" I asked, letting my head drop back on the car seat. Grace had begged to drive and I refused to argue about anything on this particular day.

"Oh it's pretty dull." She pulled out into the street, doing 50 in a 35. "A lot of reading and laugh at Hanz."

"Things are good?"

"Things are great." She grinned wickedly. "I'm going to meet his family this Thursday."

"Big step. Are we ready?"

"I'm nervous but I'll survive it. It's just his mom and little brother so it shouldn't be too bad."

"I'm so glad your back!" I shrieked. "I've missed having a girl around."

"How's Mr. Murray?"

"He's just as good as the day I finally accepted he wouldn't leave me alone." I giggled. "If not better."

"What about your dad and Ms. Rose." She honked at a slow driver. I held onto the armrest.

"They are acting like a married couple." I shrugged.

"And school?"

"Nice and boring."

I watched the scenery pass by with a fleeting glance. Things had changed so much, but not so much in a bad way. School was boring but I was passing with steady B's. Grove and me were really great, laughing, talking, goofing around. Daddy and Rose were being total parents with slightly more giggling and cooing. Everything was devastatingly good and I wasn't going to do anything to change it.

"How's Adam?" I asked, my voice dropping to a whisper. I watched Grace's reaction carefully. She gave a sympathetic smile and slowed down at least ten miles an hour. A sigh and a swift lane change before she answered.

"Good. He's got a girlfriend now, she's a nasty whore, but he loves her. . . or things about her."

"Big boobs?" I laughed.

"Bigger than her head."


"Not really, she's got a really small head." We both giggled like idiots before pulling into my driveway and jumping into the cold winter air.

"My goodness is that who I think it is?" Rose asked as Grace and I both trudged into the house. There was snow in the air which meant a constant chill.

"Hey Ms. Rose." Her smile widened as the older woman wrapped her in a hug.

"You look just adorable. How are things?" I sat and watched in quiet as my step mom attacked Grace with questions. It was going to be a good Christmas.

10 days later.

Christmas morning.

I was always one to wake up extremely early on Christmas morning but for some reason I was too tired to roll out of bed on this particular day. The only reason I got up at all was the feel of someone jumping on top of me and smothering me with their heavy form.

"Mhmm." I mumbled, pulling the covers away to see my boyfriends grinning face.

"I'm here to deliver your present, baby." He kissed me square on the forehead while I laughed into the comforter.

"What is it?"

"Me!" He moved over enough to let me sit up and giving him a full look.

"I already have you. What's my real present?" I grinned as he feigned hurt.

"It's something very charming and romantic of me. You're going to love me for it."

"I already love you." I sighed, wondering slightly if my hair was as messy as it felt.

"Don't ruin the intro, El." He bounced into Indian position. "I'm building it up."

"Can I just have it now?" I pouted. "I'd like to have it."

"What are you gonna do for me?" He bit his lip most attractively. I leant forward and kissed him on the cheek.

"Cheap thrills." I laughed.

"Here...but wait." He had hoisted the tiny package toward me but quickly retracted his extended limb. "It's a nice gift that I thought you would like but if you don't want to accept it I'll take it back and hate you forever." He joked.

"For all eternity?"

"Until hell freezes over."

I sucked in breath and nodded as if serious. "Let's have a go at it. Give it."

He handed me the tiny box wrapped in shiny red paper, with a misshapen green bow about the top.

"You got me jewelry. I told you not to go all out. . . I can't.."

"Open it, baby." He pointed to the box and I let out a sigh. Slowly I tore open the package and felt myself grin at the soft velvet blue it was made out of. I flipped open the top and stared at the beautiful silver ring with a startling sapphire jewel in the shape of a heart at the very crest. I stared and stared and stared some more.

"You like it?" He asked, his voice as deep as usual, if more so.

"It's so pretty."

"Look what's inside.


"It's got an inscription." He pointed at it again. "It's in there."

I couldn't help but grin a little at his rosy cheeks and shaky hand. "Right there." he said again.

"I promise." I read aloud and looked up into my boyfriends gorgeous eyes.

"I do. I promise you forever, El." He smirked. "If you want me. I'm here."

"I love you, Grove Murray." I slipped the ring on my finger and slammed my body into his. My lips met his and my arms flew around his neck. He laughed, so did I. "This..this is.. Thank you." Yes it was a cheesy moment but it was my cheesy moment.

"Merry Christmas, El."

"Merry Christmas to you too." I replied.

You can figure out the rest.

AUTHORS NOTE: Well you guys its been so much fun writing this story. It truly has. I'm glad that it's finally come to a close though. No more struggling to think up tiny bouts of angst. I'll tell you what though, I've got a new story out as well. It's called SEB: Invisible Pervert. Please please please please please read it. I will love you forever and ever for it. I'm in love with that story ..like for serious. So please read it.

Any questions ask in reviews.

and I LOVE YOU GUYS SO MUCH!! I appreciate you hardcore and am so happy that you stuck with me for so long.